Getting your squat numbers up does not involve just squatting and squatting. Some of the heaviest squatters in the world can do squats day in and day out, every time they train legs – that does not mean you should. Different things work for different people, and you cannot do something just because a 900-pound squatter does it. You should be trying out different things to find out what works best for you.
One method of using different exercises to improve a single lift is the Westside lifting template, which basically targets explosiveness to improve maximal strength. Their squat workouts do not involve the classic squat – they use a variation called a box squat, which involves sitting down on a box at the bottom of the squat before exploding back up.
The extreme side of this is the Crossfit template, which calls for different workouts every time. You can gain maximum strength by focusing on increasing strength and explosiveness instead of spreading your efforts too thin across a broad spectrum of fitness indicators, unless your goal is to be as fit as a decathlete; then, you should try out Crossfit-style training.
Using assistance exercises is a proven way to progress in your lifts. Not only does it give you a different kind of stimulus, it also gives you space to do work that is supplementary to your primary lifting goal. For instance, if you are purely a powerlifter, you can use assistance exercises to throw in a little bodybuilding work with higher repetitions. If you are a bodybuilder, you can use a powerlifting style routine with assistance work to give you the benefits of heavy lifting.
However, keep in mind that you should only be doing one to two assistance movements each workout session.
Squats are hands down the best exercise to develop the lower body. The most common variation used is the back squat. But to focus more on the legs, you can use the front squat. It is more technical since you will need to rest the bar on your front shoulders. It will also force you to use less weight, but will give your legs more work since your torso will be almost vertical.
Box squats are also a good assistance exercise to improve power from the bottom position, which is a common sticking point for many lifters.
Lunges are usually done after some heavy sets as a cool down movement, but it is not utilized to its maximum potential when done with just bodyweight. Holding heavy dumbbells in both hands while doing lunges makes it a very potent assistance exercise for the squat. Here is a video on lunging correctly.
Leg presses are also good for taking it to the limit with your thigh muscles. They work almost the same muscles as the squat, but at a different angle. You can also try to eke out as many repetitions as you can on the last set if it is the last exercise for the legs in that session.
Remember to do about 10-12 repetitions per set, for two to three sets. Assistance exercises should be exactly that – assistance. They should not take too much to recover from for your next heavy session.
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